All cultures have made contributions to our story. Some civilizations made more than others. Some were made by accident, some intentionally, some for good and some for bad. Being open to new philosophies, sciences and social structures is a testament to the humanity of a culture. The Islamic way of life that began in Arabia in the early 600s AD was one of the biggest players on history’s stage. We pinpoint the birth of the Islamic culture so precisely because it was during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, whose teachings and visions led to the Qur’an and the religion of Islam. Historically, the Asian continent fostered the most progressive civilizations up until the discovery of the Americas, and Europe’s rise to world dominance. In the centuries leading up to that point, the major players in global culture, economics and military power were China, India and the Muslim empires throughout the near and far east. Asian civilization was hundreds of years ahead in science, philosophy, mathematics and engineering. Islamic contributions to science and philosophy gave humankind the Arabic number systems, modern mathematics and computer sciences, and ushered Greco-Roman philosophy into the western world.
Mathematics is perhaps one of the largest contributions the Islamic world has made to modern civilization. Innovations like the Arabic number system and algebra made many modern sciences possible. Humankind would never have landed on the moon without Algebraic calculations. A Persian mathematician, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, suggested that a little circle should be used in calculations if no number appeared in the tens place. Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, geographer and a scholar in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. He was born in Persia around 780 AD. The House of Wisdom was a scientific research and teaching center. (famousscientists n. pg.) He basically took forms of Indian geometry and other Babylonian mathematics and transformed it into the Arabic number system that is still in use today. Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi’s mathematical works are considered to be the basis of all modern forms of science.
Computers are one of the most profound advancements our species has made. Humankind has never experienced this kind of immediacy in information or communication before the last 10 to 15 years. If a download takes longer than a few seconds we get angry with an inanimate object. Every aspect of our lives now revolves around some digital device. Our tablets, telephones, television, banking, the list goes on for days; tablets have even become the babysitter. This cyber world is also made possible by Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi’s influence on modern science. He is even referred to as “Grandfather of Computer Science.” It is mind rattling to think that the work of one man, so long ago, is responsible for Aunt Sally posting the recipe for her kick-ass meatloaf on Facebook. Because of his contributions to computers, mathematics and science, Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi, could be the most influential person to have ever walked this spinning rock.
Another aspect of Islam’s contributions to humankind is their integration of ancient Greco-Roman philosophy into their own. Islamic scholars like Al-Ghazali had the wisdom to see the wisdom in others. This is truly an outstanding quality in a society. It means they can learn and grow. “The expansion of Islam had brought Arabs into contact with the Ideas and achievements of many other peoples including the Hindus of India, the central Asian Buddhists, the Persians, and the Greeks.” (Ansary pg 99). Al-Ghazali interpreted Greek philosophies in the 11th and 12th centuries and helped develop Neoplatonism, which is a way of adapting Greek philosophy into Islamic beliefs. Sufism comes from these elements mixing together. Learning from other like they did can lead a civilization to a greater understanding of the world around them, and of themselves.
In the 7th century the Rashidun Caliphate took the seaport city of Alexandria from the Byzantines and took into their empire many great minds that could still translate Latin. They had stumbled upon a wealth of Greco-Roman philosophies. They discovered all the oldies but goodies, and listened to the hits of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, and these ancient philosophers resonated with them. “Here they discovered the works of Plotinus, a philosopher who has said that everything in the universe was connected like the parts of a single organism, and all of it added up to a single mystical One, from which everything had emanated and to which everything would return.” (Ansary 99). They found this in Muhammad’s teachings of Allah, and drew a straight line from these philosophies to Islam.
It is overlooked by many that Islamic philosophies were a driving force in Europe’s rise to becoming secular nation states. Muslim scholars were translating the Greco-Roman philosophies in the 8th century. Over the next few hundred years these translations made their way to Western Europe through Islamic peoples. Islamic philosophies are one of the core catalysts behind the renaissance and enlightenment eras in Europe.
In many ways the Islamic world has been a forgotten contributor to modern civilization. The postal system, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, eyeglasses, the hospital and free health care, the university and degree, a myriad of tangible and intangible things we use in the world we live in today are brought to you by the folks in the near and far east . Huffington post called this “Historical Amnesia” Without the Arabic number system the modern world would not be so modern. There would be no Math 64 to pass and although that sounds great to some, the fact is Algebra really spawned most technological things we use in our lives. Cell phones and our laptops all link back to the teachings that traveled through time courtesy of Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi. Colleges throughout Western Civilization teach philosophy, Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. The “best of albums” there are degrees offered in the study of the great thinkers. These timeless wisdoms could very well have been lost forever if not for the Islamic scholar society translating, preserving and teaching them to others. The Islamic world is one of the largest contributors to our way of life. Without their ingenuity and deep thinking, humankind would have a very different standard of living.